“Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”

                                                                                                Romans 12: 9 – 21

Great heaviness of heart is hard to escape some days. Edginess in conversations; great differences in interpretation of events around me feel unsettling and disturbing. Sometimes it feels that there are two realities. I remember when first studying post-modern culture that one of the characteristics of the new era would be that truth was no longer absolute. I wondered what that meant at the time; now we are living it in real time.

When I read the Romans text, which was the lectionary text for last week, it struck me that I need a little more of this kind of being in the world and a little less of all that is weighing me down. I am not helpless and I have nothing to fear. I am called to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. I am generally not a confrontational person. I don’t like conflict and will back down in great mea culpa most of the time. I don’t feel like doing that now.

Last night we hosted five college students, our granddaughter and four of her Tar Heel Voices friends. It was a glorious, uplifting night. Spaghetti and song go a long way to bring joy into a room. The UNC students talked about their school year and their hopes for moving forward. They talked about life and the way of the world. They recognize that they will be responsible for carrying forth a mantle of truth, goodness and joy into the world. It was a most restorative evening for Tom and me.

I am tired of being sick and tired of the way some things are being lived out and spoken into. I am tired of tirades by the left and the right on the radio and television. I hope for a steady middle ground on which to stand. I also have realized even more that I need time for quiet reflection and prayer. Prayer. Prayer. And more prayer. It’s the only way I can find peace in the storm.

Paul gives such good instruction for living in turmoil. This. This way of being in the world seems so simple, yet it calls for much intention to live in truth and authenticity, joy and mutual affection. From Rush to Rachel to Romans there is such difference. But I choose Romans as a way to return to civility and abundant life. When we lose civility in our daily discourse, does civilization even stand a chance? When truth is malleable, when dismissal of science and research and contortion of facts become normalized, could we be headed into another Dark Age?

My prayer going home last week was born out of the heavy heart seeking renewal. I share it with you in all its rawness:

O God, a heavy heart will not raise the world. A fearful heart will back away in silence and reticence. Quiet sometimes is not restorative; it is only escape. O God, renew my faith that all things work together for good, and that your power is still all encompassing. Renew my hope in a world filled with hopelessness, ugly rhetoric, division, and degradation of the values that have made of us a great people. Create a new heart in me, one that knows your peace and graciousness. Fill me so full of You that it pours out of me in every word and every gesture. Let me be gentle in the world, slow, thoughtful, fearless. Faith and hope that we as Americans can indeed build a more perfect union, faith and hope that we can live the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven are my prayer. Only You can save us from the out of control ego and the anger born of un-knowing. Be present in powerful ways and unexpected turns. Lead me, Lord; lead me in your righteousness. Amen.


Posted in Spiritual Formation | 1 Comment

Forgotten History

A Reflection on Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” With this one line, a statement of history forgotten, great change comes to the land of Egypt. Joseph the dreamer is a hero in the Pharaoh’s household. Fat cows and skinny cows foretell famine that will come after times of plenty. The Egyptians are spared starvation and Joseph is reunited with his brothers who are also spared the hardship of famine.

Immediately after the king reveals his great un-knowing, fear overtakes him. Who are these foreign people and why are they here? We must do something before they “increase and join our enemies and fight against us. Let us set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.” Oppression of the Hebrew people begins as a king, ignorant of history, grows fearful and dangerous. Is ignorance of history still dangerous?

We hear it said that history repeats itself; cycles of relative peace, then oppression or some other disruption. In the end a redeemer rises up to carry forth the story of God’s people. Forgotten history keeps us on the merry-go-round, always travelling in circles, never really going anywhere.

This text is the beginning of the Moses story, the great redemption story of the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses, the stutterer, is a most reluctant player. Yet Moses realizes his calling and Moses has not forgotten the history of God and God’s covenant with the beloved community.

Forgotten history plagues us today. We are fighting each other because we have forgotten our common bonds, as people of faith, as Americans, as citizens together whirling through space on a very small planet. We have selective amnesia about the good ole days. Not everybody lived in the plantation house. Not everybody had electricity, running water, food. Not everybody had a vote or a voice. We have selectively remembered those things that prop up our own narrative, our own hegemony.

Lest we forget, we fail God when we do not remember Joseph and all the dreamers of history. We grow smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker as we forget. There is much that is ugly in history. There is much that has oppressed and denied and short-changed and killed as we have forgotten who we are called to be. God’s economy does not short-change anyone.

Thankfully every day is a new beginning…”time to remember and move on..” as the song says. We stand on the shoulders of a checkered history in America. Now is the time, this is the moment when we are being called to remember history, the good, the bad, the ugly and to search our hearts and souls to learn a new way, the way of grace, and goodness, and Christ in the world. Forgotten history leads us to dark places. Look up. Look forward. Keep all that is good and learn from the bad. This is how redemption works. This is Resurrection.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

A Virtual Church


In the story of the Ascension of Jesus, there is  – at the beginning of the story of the Church – a final commission: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

I began my first retirement in 2011. I failed at it. Yet I knew even then there was more in me to do for God. More witness, more words, more love and more to say about God and a relationship with Christ. I decided on the name and concept of A Virtual Church. After I secured the domain name, I wrote about what a Virtual Church would be. This is what is I wrote on my website:

“If the Church is the Body of Christ for the world, then a Virtual Church is that body without bounds. A Virtual Church is a place of speaking hope, praying for healing, offering communion with others, reflecting on God’s Word in Scripture, and engaging in thoughtful reflection on the world. A Virtual Church is a voice for offering peace to anyone on the planet who needs word of encouragement and life.”

Who knew that the Great Pandemic of 2020 would make most all the church virtual? Who even now knows the opportunity of that to reach the far ends of the earth with the Good News of Christ who often tells us – Be not afraid, and offers us an invitation to follow in ways that bring peace and rest. The opportunity for witness in the world has never been greater, both in the work that is done online, and in the boots on the ground ways of serving our communities. Ours is not an ordinary time.

What we offer online is for a world bigger than our own congregations. As I have scrolled through all the worship offerings from churches around the world, I see a world soaked in the Good News. The biggest challenge is that our culture is so slick with media graphics, music, gloss and mirrors, the simple story of Jesus may get lost among the competing voices and stories. What is shared online needs to be creative, compelling and relevant. Our shared word needs to serious, and honest, plain, hopeful, life saving truth. I am not a great believer in the theatrics of worship, yet certain amounts of those production values can show tender care of the Word we share. Herein lies the conundrum of the Virtual Church.

I think of the Abbas and Ammas and their voices from the desert place that still impact the faith. I think of Julien in the anchorage writing words for the ages. In the end, glitz and gloss do not a faith make. The word goes out into a field ripe for harvest, a life giving word. Yet the wheat wants a hook and a show. When the word falls like gentle rain on the parched field, the harvest comes alive.

For me in my little Virtual Church, I pray to offer healing words and words of hope. For ears and hearts who seek wholeness and peace, God will find you beyond the clamor and noise. Do not be afraid still is the call of Jesus in the world. I pray that all the church will live into the opportunity that is ours today and the world will live the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Stephen and the Mob

A Reflection on Acts 7: 55 – 60

Stephen’s rise to leadership begins much earlier in Acts. “Choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” The Twelve are so busy tending the needs of widows and orphans and distributing food, the ministry of the word is being neglected. They choose Stephen and six others and lay hands on them to go and preach the word. And the gospel spreads rapidly.

There is unrest among the people. Economic disparity, mis-treatment of the most vulnerable populations and growing ideological and social “camps” are stressing the people. Sharing equally in the community of goods is problematic to some. (Wasn’t this written in the paper this morning?)

And there is one other new and annoying thing raising eyebrows. Stephen is bringing life and hope to a people outside the Temple. Stephen is a charismatic leader who, like Jesus, threatens the status quo. The opposition voices fear the change that will come in Stephen’s leadership. Change and fear of losing power stir angst and anger against Stephen and a mob is born.

Interesting that the mob against Stephen is like the mob against Jesus who end up shouting, “Crucify him. Crucify him.” Seems that mobs forget reason and civility and the seeking of mutual ideals just to get their own way. “Where have all the good guys gone? Long time passing. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” Thank you PPM for an eternal question: When will we ever learn?  

Mobs are roaming downtown Raleigh this week. Para-military units loaded with weapons and hate symbols protest a government that is working to balance public health and the economy. Never mind that. Mob mentality has no room for hearing both sides. It’s my way or the highway. If the virus doesn’t keep us in, fear of protesters with assault weapons surely will. Seems a little like defeating their own purpose.

In New Hanover County, Wilmington area, just two hours from here, a mob gathered on the front porch of a young Black high school senior demanding entrance to his home for questioning about girl who was missing. The officer present jammed his foot in the door so that the young man could not close it against the mob. Then someone noticed the sign in the young man’s front yard. It had his picture on it and a big “Congratulations, Senior!” Someone realized they were intimidating the wrong Black man. And someone else called the police.

Life is going to change in lots of ways as we live and die our way through this pandemic. And there are huge swaths of life that need to change if we will ever be healed. Racism has to be called out as the evil it is. Hate needs to be shunned and hate groups need to be shamed into non-existence. We don’t need more martyrs like Stephen. We need strong, ordinary people who will stand up to the pot-stirrers and hate-mongers and say, not on my watch.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

We Had Hoped


This is a sermon I preached at Saint Mark’s UMC in Raleigh, NC on May 3, 2015.

Read: Luke 24: 13 – 23; 28 – 35      The Walk to Emmaus

These guys must not have been told by their Mamas: “Never talk to strangers!” ‘cause that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’re reviewing the events of the day, looking sad. The stranger asks: “What are you talking about?”  Now we could spend time talking about the risks and potential danger of talking to strangers, but in this case, let’s just be thankful they did.

They walked together engaged in conversation. Their eyes were kept from recognizing him and they expressed their disappointment: We Had Hoped…What was it they had hoped for and not received? They had gotten to listen to Jesus. They had gotten to see the healing work and hear the lessons of the kingdom of God. What was it they had hoped for and not gotten?

They had hoped for a thousand years that a Messiah would come, the great military leader in the line of David who would restore the fortunes of Zion. They had hoped for a king who would rally the troops to crush the Roman Empire.  They had hoped that Jesus was this Messiah.

Perhaps they had hoped for a great reformer in the Temple, one who would rid the temple of bad practices and corruption, false piety and self-righteousness. Perhaps they had hoped for one who would set the temple right in obedience to God.  Perhaps they had hoped for one who would fulfill the hopes and fears of all the years, as had been spoken by the prophets.

Could they have hoped they themselves might increase in influence and reputation by knowing a shining star in the field of prophecy and teaching? And at the end had they hoped their friend would survive all the pushback he was beginning to encounter?

Closed eyes and lost hope are not uncommon. We stumble through life  tunnel-visioned, with low perceptibility, little clarity, our eyes close as discernment clouds.  It’s pretty easy to turn a blind eye. And even easier to lose hope as life and circumstances drag us down taking us away in busyness and lowered expectations. We do not practice patient hope even when the hope of the world is born among us.

The words “we had hoped” struck me as I heard Olu Brown read this text at the preaching festival last week. Hope is a central component of the story of God throughout the entire Scriptural text. We are not a people who live without hope. For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope. My hope is in you, Lord. Yet the disciples this morning are speaking in a past perfect tense: we had hoped. They might as well have said, “It’s over.” Our hope is ended.

But Jesus does not let that happen. Jesus meets them on this well travelled road in an active presence walking alongside them and talking about the scripture with them. Our Lord may be perfect, but our Lord is not a past perfect God; Our Lord is an active present God; What ever the disciples thought, all that has happened in the past few hours and days is not the end of God’s story.

In a lot of ways it might so much easier to love the Jesus who calls us from fishing and walks up the mountain to teach; the Jesus who touches the leper and the blind man and the woman with a hemorrhage. That’s a Jesus to follow, to count on for wisdom and healing. That’s a Jesus we can pattern our lives after; hard to do but easier to get a hold on ‘cause there is no mystery to it.

That kind of following reduces us to doing the do’s and avoiding the don’ts, but Olu Brown, suggests that that kind of following keeps us in chromos time… the way we mortals keep time in life and death, beginnings and endings – a linear kind of living. Resurrection calls us to a different time-keeping: kairos time, God’s time, the Eternal Now, Perfect Precious Present kind of time. This is the fullness of time beyond measure; beyond our empirical understanding. This Resurrection time is where Jesus meets the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. And their eyes are closed to seeing him.

It’s in the breaking of bread that their eyes are opened and they know who this stranger is.  Bishop William Morris tells a story about such a kind of knowing . Whey he was a little boy his family lived in one of those shotgun kind of houses. Some days he would rush into the house after school, He couldn’t see his mama, even though he thought she was home. Then the smell of brownies in the oven met him in the hallway. She was there…. In the kitchen. An ordinary smell assured him that he was not alone in the house. She was with him. He knew she was there by the smell of the brownies filling the house. The ways we are known to one another vary; Sensory perception – heart knowledge – eyes of the heart – God works to meet us through every cell of our being and very ordinary things open our eyes to knowing Jesus.

The invitation to participate in a life with Jesus beyond the bonds of time is offered on the Emmaus Road; they had seen Jesus do this a lot at the table. Bread taken, blessed, broken and given that they might have life. They could see clearly now. This was Jesus who was present with them. Their eyes opened to the promise; Christ is with them-Grace upon grace; hope upon hope – restored. 

Here at the table of the Lord on Sunday morning, Jesus is present with us: the invitation comes not from Saint Mark’s, not from the United Methodist Church, but from Christ our Lord and we come… we know – we see – we hope and grace falls down upon us, grace that has the power to change us from the inside out. This is the grace that fuels our hope and calms our fears. This is the thin place where we meet the living God, the Resurrected Christ who is known to us in the breaking of bread. This is where we taste and see that God is good. This is where we enter kairos time in the Mystery we speak every week – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will  come again.

This is our hope, our active present hope going forward. Open our eyes, Lord that we too may see you and know you and follow you with our whole lives. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment


Dear Thomas, what questions you leave us with! You come into the room with such doubt. Jesus has already stood with the others. Where have you been? What have you been thinking before this moment? To come late and full of doubt is actually not a good look for you. So, Thomas, this whole telling of your story is pretty bad for your reputation. Just saying. Then again, maybe you are OK with the moniker Doubting Thomas.

O Lord Jesus, unless I can see with my own eyes and touch your wounds… well, what am I left with? Practical inquiry. Reasonable question. Empirical knowledge. That’s what we need. Right? Thomas, are you sure you don’t live right down the street from me? Are you part of my family? You are here. Or at least your spirit still lives where I live.

Today’s world is full of doubters and more doubters, replicated till their voices resound in pitch perfect skepticism and mistrust. Who are the reliable sources? Who are the voices that bring healing calm? And why does it seem like the louder voices are those ringing with vitriol and mean-spiritedness?

I have always thought of doubt as the prod for faith building, the place where the knowing and the unknowing live a push-pull creative tension. Doubt becomes the place where dynamic faith is grown. Doubt seeds the questions and the questions stretch us even when they go unanswered.

The story of Thomas from John 20: 19 – 31 speaks to a personal doubt that needs tangible proof. Thomas’s doubt is about seeing before believing. “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I have not seen the world from outer space, but I believe the world is round and not flat, as some in the world today still believe. I have not seen the glaciers cracking and melting, nor have I seen thick air pollution over Beijing and Los Angeles, but I have seen weather changes and increasing storms. I believe in science and environmental research while doubters and deniers abound even as the water rises. I have not been in a New York Hospital, or in Milan, Italy to see how COVID 19 is impacting lives, but I believe what I see in the media. People are dying and body counts are mounting. Even funeral homes are overwhelmed. Still there are some in the world who are calling this pandemic a hoax.

Who will we trust? In what or whom will we have faith? Who among us is building trustworthiness? When we cling more to ideology, dismissing and demeaning those who do not agree with us, the doubt wins and we all lose. Throwing stones destroys goodwill and sets a divide that hurts everybody. How much more of the acrimony seeded by doubt can we live before completely breaking?

Jesus reveals his wounds and invites Thomas to believe. Our world is wounded; God’s people everywhere are hurting. Now is a time to grow faith and build trust. Now is the time to take a leap toward all that is good, all that is God. In this season after Easter, may we encounter the risen Christ and find new hope that restores and saves. Through our believing, we will find new life. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Mary Went to the Phone

Perhaps it was that my mouth outran my brain, or the other way around. Or perhaps in light of this COVID 19 shelter in place order of the day, that I actually was prescient. I stood in the parking lot at Saint Francis UMC to lead the Sunrise Service on Easter Morning. As I read from the gospel of John, “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the —-wait for it—- PHONE.

I heard myself say it. Brain lapse. I hope I said something like, “I hate these new translations,” but I likely just lowered and shook my head, mortified that I had screwed up the most glorious reading of the whole story of Jesus. I still shake my head when I think about it. People still remember this Sunrise Reading of the story of the Resurrection. I usually am reminded about it at this time of the year. “Where is Mary going this year? Is Mary still going to the phone?”

Actually this year, 2020, when physical distancing is necessary, going to the phone or the iPad is probably a good idea for Mary and all of us. Many pastors, musicians, Bishops and other church leaders will be filling the cyber sphere and the Internet with the Good News that Christ is Risen. One will need only to scroll through our Facebook feeds and You Tube videos to hear the message of Easter. That in itself is good news.

The Corona virus is taking a huge toll on us, we humans, all around the world. Suffering is not partisan, nor is it particular to one people or one continent. Death tolls are startling, even to funeral home companies. And for every death counted, there are families, extended families, and friends who grieve each person lost to them. The grief is compounded as financial pressures also mount. In the months since the journey with an unleashed virus began, life has changed drastically. Our new journey will not let us dismiss or ignore the pain of death. Death is not a hoax.

What we can do is invite Mary to the phone. Hear someone read the story she lived with the Risen Christ. Or read it yourself: John 20: 1 – 18. Then go stand on your front steps and shout to the world, “Christ is Risen. Christ is Risen indeed.” You may hear the birds sing a response. You may feel the breeze softly whispering, “O death, where is your sting? O death, where is your victory?”

The hope of Resurrection stands beyond the thief that is COVID 19. I pray that wherever you hear the good news, know the good news is for you and for all of us who hope. Jesus has prepared us for this moment: “I will not leave you comfortless; do not be afraid.” Easter is ours to claim because we believe this promise. We are not alone. Christ is Risen and death is defeated. Mary, pick up the phone and tell someone new that you have seen the Lord. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Where Can We Go?

A Reflection in Psalm 139

Leaving Steeretown, Jamacia, after ten days of working to build a Methodist Church there, was filled with emotion. There were goodbyes to the church members who had hosted us and worshiped with us and worked alongside us to lay a concrete floor and paint windows. Our team had grown close, and we were beginning our goodbyes to one another. We shared a moment in time that changed us.

Steeretown is not where the Sandals Resort is. It’s closer to where Bob Marley was born; where he wrote his songs. “One love; One heart. Let’s get together and feel all right. Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner; There ain’t no hiding place from the Father of Creation.”

Jamaica is a poor island. Beautiful beaches with multi-million dollar resorts skirt the poverty that is the real story of Jamaica. But the people there are generous and hospitable and welcoming to teams like ours. I left remembering the goodness of the people, and I left thinking how hot the sun was there. I missed air conditioning and a bed in a room where I did not have to watch out for the scorpions. I had an overwhelming sense of my own hubris and naivete in swooping down from my perch of privilege to put a little band-aid on the situation and circumstances of pervasive wealth inequality and systemic inequities.

I remember thinking about the question of Psalm 139. Where can I go from your Presence? I remember feeling so thankful that I had a place to go back to. Home. Comfortable, beautiful, air conditioned home. Food. Gasoline in my car. And I remember thinking our Steeretown friends really did not have another place to go. They were home.

One lesson I am learning in the COVID 19 shelter-in-place social distancing is that there is nowhere I can go – nowhere you can go to get away from it. We can’t just board a plane or hop a bus and drive to a place the virus is not, or not yet there. For people in a lot of places around the world, money and mobility afford a way out. Even that is not much help now. Corona virus is the new equalizer of the human condition.

Going back to the Psalm of the second week of Lent, Psalm 121, it asks the question, “Where can I go for help?” Psalm 139 gives a clear picture of the answer by asking another question, “Where can I go from your Spirit, or where can I go from your Presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” As this virus sweeps across the globe, God is already there.

In every town and city from New York to Los Angeles, from New Orleans to Seattle, from Steeretown to Raleigh, North Carolina, God is already there. In every hospital and clinic, in every ICU and every family waiting room, God is already there. It’s why the psalmist of psalm 139 acknowledges, “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God. How vast the sum of them. I try to count them, they are more than the sand.”

Harry Smith, television photo journalist offered a piece on NBC that compared our days living with the pandemic as living in real time Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. We wake up and every day is the same. Spring is still springing; grass is still greening. Infection is still infecting. The virus is everywhere around us. Thankfully and blessedly, God is around us too. “The darkness shall cover me, but even the darkness is not dark to you.” 

Approaching Holy Week 2020, I pray we will find a prayer of assurance in the psalms and that we will find strength in the coming days and weeks to live as Resurrection people. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Watching for the Morning

A Reflection on Psalm 130

The projection clock displays the time in red numbers on our bedroom ceiling. The clock was a gift to us one Christmas. We chuckled when we opened it that Christmas morning. Who needs to know the time in the middle of the night? From the bed? Apparently I do.

Sometimes I have nights when wakefulness overtakes sleepfulness. Long stretches of darkness and quarter turns in the bed quickly become the order of the night and waiting for the light becomes increasingly long. I watch for the morning, doing the math in my sleep deprived mind. Only an hour and forty five minutes till sunrise. I think I can wait that long.

What do I do in the stretches of darkness? How do I make the darkness fruitful as I watch for the light? Sister Kathleen said to pray the hours in those times of wakefulness. Yours is the morning, O God and yours is the evening. Keep me in the shadow of your wings. Keep me as the apple of your eye. Being awake to God becomes the present reality in the darkness that surrounds me.

I pray the alphabet – A is for Ann, B is for Bobby and on and on. I usually go back to sleep around the L’s. Because I am an equilateral prayer, sometimes I start praying from the Z’s and pray the alphabet in reverse. The Zeh’s are deceased now, so I start with the Youngs. I pray the Lord’s Prayer and recite bits of Scripture in my head. I do the examen.

The psalmist invites the examination. “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication. If you, O Lord should mark iniquities, Lord who could stand?” In the darkness iniquity seems more exposed. The shadow side is absorbed into the darkness of night. Maybe that’s why Mother always said nothing good ever happens after midnight.

But there is forgiveness with God. And in God’s word we hope and we wait and we watch for the morning light. Darkness has its place. We cannot fully escape it. Light will come in the time after the watch. That is the good news of Christ in the world. Christ is the Light born into the darkness. Christ is the Light and Life risen from the grave.

As we approach Holy Week 2020, great darkness of infection, disease, and death cover the earth. We seem so small in the darkness, but God is still God and God is awake all night long. God will redeem the world through the many who are working through this darkness. Long nights; little sleep. God bless those who work or watch or weep this night. Give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend your sick ones and rest your weary ones. Bless the dying and soothe the suffering. Lead us, Lord, to the light of your love and grace. Amen.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | Leave a comment

Got Solace?

A Reflection on Psalm 91

In times of unease and fear, recalling God’s deliverance brings solace to our weary souls. Our times are bringing anxiety. Panic is setting in. We can see it in the hoarding going on at the grocery stores. The churches are scrambling for ways to address the rising tide of dis-ease COVID – 19 is bringing to us. Even if we are not infected, we are affected.

The psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures are a great resource for addressing the human condition. In the psalms we find praise, assurances, expressed anger, comfort and assurance – a gamut of human emotion. Psalm 91 gives us assurance.

“You who live in the shelter of the Most High…” hear this word from the Almighty. God will deliver you from the snare of the fowler. God will cover you with his pinions – (I hope this is a small army of angels with arrows to pierce the plague.) You will not fear the night… you will not fear the pestilence that stalks in darkness or the destruction that wastes at noonday. Sounds like good news to me.

Then I get to verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 91. Here is what they say:

            “A thousand will fall at your side,

            ten thousand at your right hand,

            but it will not come near you.

            You will only look with your eyes

            And see the punishment of the wicked.”

Even in the midst of comfort, I get stuck on these two verses. Seems to me that a little slippery slope is hidden in the solace. I ask myself, who are the wicked? Who are the other, those who have not done what is right so as to lose the protection and blessing of God? You know, so I have heard, the good are blessed with a providential specialissima[1]

We so quickly identify the bad and are quick to call them wicked “godless, nasty, self-serving people who are a cancer on Americans. They are a band of demons.” And this is just a sample of how we are characterizing others of a different political party. Think of the ways we demonized homosexuals when HIV first arrived. It was not until a young hemophiliac in Ohio contracted HIV from a blood supply that attitudes began to change. When I ask who are the wicked, I think it must be I myself.

I, as all of us, have a shadow side. It’s where anger and rage live. It’s where the bruised ego lives, that part of me that needs to make someone else less so that I can be more. It’s the place where the greatest reckoning is called forth; the place of my constant Examen.

Indeed, I do know God’s providence and assurance and blessing. I also know that God’s providence is broad upon the creation God called very good. God will be with us in this trouble. God will hear our prayers. Let us not destroy one another in our differences, but lift one another in our common humanity and oneness. Life is fragile at best. Let us uphold one another in all that is good, all that is God. Amen.

[1] Hans-Joachim Kraus, The Psalms, A Commentary, p. 225.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | 1 Comment